BOSTON (SHNS) – U.S. senators appear to be “coming around” on the idea of another federal stimulus package in the wake of COVID-19 spikes in some southern states, according to Congressman Stephen Lynch.
Lynch, during a video address before the New England Council, characterized southern states as “all lit up right now” with COVID-19 cases and noted that some, like Texas, have pulled back on their economic reopening plans.
“So now I think they understand with the high numbers of positive cases they’ve got in their states that they’ve got to do something,” Lynch said. “I think that aspect of it, I think the economic aspect of it, I think they’re coming around on that.”
He said, “I always say, if there’s one thing you can count on the Senate, it’s to act in their own best interest.”
The House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package in May, which was criticized by Senate leaders who have expressed interest in pursuing legislation with a smaller price tag that would also include liability protections for businesses.
“There does need to be some protection,” Lynch said. “A lot of these businesses were without fault, although there were a few businesses that were absolutely reckless, and those businesses should be held responsible and accountable if they were reckless and caused harm to people and allowed the public or their customers to be infected. We’ve got to come up with the right language, and that’s going to be a drafting exercise to figure out how that all comes together.”
Aid to municipal and state governments whose budgets have been battered by the pandemic and the economic downturn is a major component of the House bill. Lynch said the $1 trillion figure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested for a relief package “won’t even cover the lost revenue from the states.”
“I don’t expect to get 3 trillion, but tell me what your counteroffer is, and be honest with us and let’s have a debate about priorities here,” Lynch said. “Do you not think that we have to pay teachers? Do you not think that we have to keep our nurses and police and fire employed? Do you think that these cities and towns have some magic fund that they’re going to draw upon?”
While some areas will be up for negotiation between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House, Lynch said, “There are things that we will die on that hill to get.”
“Certainly support for nurses and teachers and firefighters and police and making sure that our cities and towns and states have the ability to put essential workers on the job, we’re going to die on that hill,” he said. “That’s got to happen.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said during a Sunday television interview that he’s “feeling pretty positive about something happening here before the end of July.”
“There’s been a fair amount of bipartisan activity both among the governors and among folks in the Senate and in Congress about trying to put together a deal recognizing and understanding that states and municipalities face corona-driven and economic-driven issues as a result of the virus,” Baker told Jon Keller during a WBZ-TV segment.
Congress traditionally takes a recess in August, a break Lynch said he thinks shouldn’t be taken while a relief bill is still outstanding.
“We should hang in there. We should get the job done,” he said. “There’s no magic about August. A lot of other people whose lives have changed, it’s OK if Congress’ life changes as well.”
Lynch said he suspects that Congressional leadership “may keep us on a short leash and could perhaps pull us back in in August.”
New England Council President and CEO Jim Brett asked Lynch if he expected an eventual next round of relief legislation to extend the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits authorized under an earlier federal law. That extra benefit is slated to expire at the end of July.
Lynch said he thought some version of the extra benefit might continue “but he’s “not sure it will be 600.”
“In some of these smaller states and red states and rural states, when you add $600, you’re basically doubling the unemployment benefits,” he said.
The federal law that authorized the $600 per week unemployment add-on, known as the CARES Act, also directed the federal government to distribute direct stimulus payments to taxpayers. Lynch said a second round of such direct aid would be “more productive” than the initial $1,200 checks sent out early in the COVID-19 pandemic
“That was staying-alive money. This is reopening-the-economy money,” Lynch said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s necessary.”
Lynch called the original aid payments “counterintuitive” because they were intended to stimulate the economy but arrived at a time when governments and public health officials were advising that people stay at home. “Now we’re actually opening up and we’re giving people money, and we’re saying, OK, you know, prudently, carefully, responsibly, re-engage.”